US to conduct its last 'clearing' operation of the Afghan war
The 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division will begin a major 'clearing' operation shortly. The brigade recently deployed to the Andar district of Ghazni province in Eastern Afghanistan and took over an area previously held by Polish troops.
"The American paratroopers are not replacing Polish forces; they are taking over what is expected by many to be the last big clearing operation of the war, allowing the Polish Task Force White Eagle to consolidate around the provincial seat in northern Ghazni," according to the Regional Command - East website.
"To secure Afghanistan, you must secure Andar," Musa Khan, the governor of Ghazni province said.
The RC-East website described Andar as "both a provincial district and a tribe within the Pashtun ethnicity influenced heavily by the Taliban."
US troop surge and counterinsurgency operations, 2010 to 2012
US counterinsurgency operations generally follow a pattern that consists of three phases: 'clear,' 'hold,' and 'build'.
In the 'clear' phase, insurgent strongholds are attacked directly. This is a high-intensity combat operation requiring a relatively large number of troops. The goal is to attack insurgents in their stronghold and drive them out of the area while destroying their infrastructure. Extra troops are usually deployed for these operations and heavy fighting usually lasts for a number of months.
In the 'hold' phase and the subsequent 'build' phase, local troops are brought in, first to prevent insurgents from infiltrating back into cleared areas. Then the local troops are built up so they can stand on their own while US troops are gradually withdrawn.
Starting in early 2010, when the US began sending a surge of troops to Afghanistan, the US conducted a number of large-scale counterinsurgency operations. Over the next two years, clear, hold, and build operations were executed throughout South and Southwest Afghanistan. By 2012, these had mostly shifted to hold and build operations, reducing the demand for US troops. The original plan for 2012 and 2013 was to transfer US troops to East Afghanistan to execute counterinsurgency operations there.
The end of US-led clearing operations
In June 2011, however, the US announced it would withdraw its surge forces. Between July 2011 and October 2012, the US would withdraw 32,000 of its 100,000 troops.
With the drawdown, the extra US troops needed for large scale clearing operations would no longer be available. US counterinsurgency operations would have to concentrate on holding and building in areas that have already been cleared.
Given the drawdown schedule, the Andar operation will necessarily be the last US-led clearing operation of the Afghan war. Any further clearing operations will have to be led by the Afghan National Security Force with the US in a supporting role.
Andar clearing operation and 82nd Airborne Division, April 2012
As part of the plan to draw down US surge forces, clearing operations in northern Afghanistan scheduled for 2012 were canceled.
The 45th National Guard Infantry Brigade based in the area (in Laghman and Nuristan provinces) ended its deployment and withdrew in March. Its replacement, the 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, deployed instead to Ghazni province, where the brigade provides the extra troops needed for the Andar clearing operation.
Ghazni province is of particular importance for several reasons. Ghazni, along with Paktika, Paktia, and Khost provinces, comprises the main operating area for the Haqqani Network, considered the most dangerous and lethal of the Taliban organizations. Terror groups such as al Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan also operate in Ghazni.
Ghazni also sits astride one of the main infiltration routes for the Haqqani Network from its safe havens in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province through eastern Afghanistan and on to the capital of Kabul. The Andar district in Ghazni serves as a major insurgent stronghold and staging area along the route.
The 1st Brigade/ 82nd Airborne Division's mission will be to clear Andar district of insurgents and disrupt the infiltration route. The clearing operation may last up to six months. Then, US forces in the area will transition to a holding operation with the Afghan National Security Force troops in the lead and US forces moving to a support role.